Getting the ICC Team Balance Right

What is the “right” balance for the ICC World Cup?  This event had fourteen teams, 42 pool matches played in 29 days.  Yet, for some reason no games were played on one of those days (2nd March).

Each team played 6 games, which is a game within every 5 days.  However, New Zealand played 3 games within the first 6 days of the tournament whilst Australia had to wait 7 days between each of their first 3 games.  Add to that, after playing in Auckland, had to back up in Perth 3 days later, the longest travel trip matched with the shortest break of the tournament.

For a bat and ball game, it’s not unreasonable to play at least every four days.  Interestingly, this is the minimum gap between matches for India.  Of course, the ICC doesn’t play favourites.

These numbers are important to consider as the ICC grapples with the usual quadrennial gripe of “the tournament takes too long” and the proposal to reduce the next tournament to ten teams.

Personally, I believe getting 42 matches completed in 29 days is a good balance, there are many more flaws within that schedule to what I have already identified.  Best case is to play 2 games a day in 21 days, however given the travel demands around this continent and New Zealand, 4 weeks isn’t unreasonable.

Given the quarter finalists were only determined on the last day of the preliminary round, it’s hard to argue the 2 pools of seven format was a failure.

How does this compare with previous tournaments?  In the history of the World Cup 20 nations have played in the main tournament.

There were only six test playing nations at the time of the first World Cup; England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and West Indies have played every World Cup.  Sri Lanka have played in every World Cup, as an associate qualifier in 75 and 79 and then as the seventh test nation from 83 onwards.

The other qualifier in 1975 was East Africa, a conglomerate of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia.  The East African Cricket Association only had a short life and in 1979 their spot in the World Cup was taken by Canada.

In 1983 seven full members were joined by Zimbabwe as the sole associate member.

These same eight teams competed in 1987 and 1992.

The draw and logistics were all “locked in” 12 months prior to the 1992 tournament, however the political changes in South Africa saw a rush to re-establish this former test playing nation to full membership, and only a month before the first scheduled match, a new schedule to accommodate a ninth team was released.

By the 1996 event Zimbabwe were the ninth test playing nation.  The format was expanded to 12 teams and three associate member qualifiers were Kenya, Netherlands and United Arab Emirates.

This tournament saw a number of unfortunate firsts.  West Indies and Australia forfeited their games in the civil war effected co-host Sri Lanka.

Co-hosts India collapsed to be 8 for 120 chasing Sri Lanka’s 251 in the semi-final at Eden Gardens.  The 110,000 strong crowd began to riot and set fires in the stands.  For the first time an international cricket a match was abandoned and awarded to Sri Lanka, though there is little doubt how the game would have concluded.

1999 saw the introduction of the Super Six second round, where the top 3 qualifiers from the 2 original pools would play a round robin against the 3 qualifiers from the other pool.  From the associates Kenya are joined by Bangladesh and Scotland.  The Super Six game between India and Pakistan is the only time these two have faced off when their countries were formally at war with each other.

The 2003 tournament expanded to 14 teams and was the first with Bangladesh as the tenth Test nation.  The associates were represented by Kenya, Netherlands, Canada and Namibia.

Once again games were forfeited with New Zealand not touring Kenya and England not going to Zimbabwe.  This enabled both of these co-host nations to advance to the Super Six stage, but main hosts South Africa were eliminated.

The 2007 tournament in the Caribbean saw Canada return with the ten Test nations and were joined by Netherlands, Ireland and Bermuda.  The Super Six was expanded to Super Eight.  Both Pakistan and India failed to progress into the Super Eight.  The BCCI made it be known they would see the end of the Super Six/Eight concept.

True to form come the 2011 tournament, 2 pools of 7 were announced and the re-introduction of knock out quarter finals replacing the Super Eight system.  Kenya replaced Bermuda in this edition of the Cup.

This tournament was to be co hosted by Pakistan, but since the 2009 terrorist attack on the Pakistan and Sri Lankan teams in Lahore, the ICC re-allocated the 14 games scheduled there amongst the other co hosts India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Which now brings us to the debut of Afghanistan joining Scotland and the UAE to the 2015 event.  This is Ireland’s third consecutive World Cup.

Why the history lesson?  Why after 40 years of World Cup cricket would the ICC consider locking out the non Test playing nations for the first time?

As the Irish captain Will Porterfield said after scoring a century against Pakistan “Why should we bother even playing the game?”

It also demonstrates how Sri Lanka, after consecutive appearances in 75 and 79 were granted Test status.  Zimbabwe qualified as the sole associate team for the 83, 87 and 92 tournaments and then granted Test status.  Bangladesh, however debuted in the 99 tournament and were already a Test team by the 2003 edition.

So what of the Test status claims for Kenya, who debuted in 1999 and made the semi-final of the 2003 tournament?

Sadly the volatile political situation in the African cricketing states has seen the game flounder outside of South Africa.  For a number of years Zimbabwe excluded themselves from Test cricket due to the drain of players escaping the farcical political situation of the country.

Netherlands played in 4 of the five previous World Cups.  They were competitive, yet not considered for Test status.  Now, after three consecutive World Cup appearances, Ireland are making a genuine claim for Test status.

Had Kenya and Netherlands been elevated, there would be 12 full members and I can hear the traditionalists claiming the quality of Test cricket being diminished.

But if Test cricket is to be kept to ten teams, why should those nations be unchallenged?  There is a qualifying tournament for the World Cup, but what pathway is there to break into the Test arena, other than the political good grace of the ICC?

I suggest that at any time an Associate member should be able to issue a challenge to a current Test nation to their spot on the top shelf.

Imagine a First class “challenge match” between Ireland and Zimbabwe?  How about Afghanistan taking on the rump of West Indies in Barbados? The winner would be secure for the next 4 years.

Then to see how would Zimbabwe and West Indies fare in the ICC Trophy.  They’re not exactly a lock to overcome Scotland, Netherlands or Kenya.  Losing test status could sound the knell of the game in the Caribbean.

The ICC, however, is a political beast.  Four of the ten full members are the Asian block and they wouldn’t allow for one of their own to be put at risk.  Remember, they don’t play favourites.

The ICC somehow has to balance the need to grow the game around the world, whilst maintaining the integrity of the international game in its third century of play.  They to need to establish a growth plan, there needs to be a second European Test tour.  They need to invest to strengthen African cricket and North America.

Cricket needs to grow, and Test cricket is how to achieve that growth with quality play.

There are a lot of challenges ahead for the ICC.  A one day World Cup that takes 6 weeks to complete, isn’t one of them.

About Wayne Ball

Tragic fan of the Australian and NSW cricket teams (for those of you outside NSW, there is a difference, despite what David Hookes said). Not a fan of T20. Penrith Panthers are the only club of decency and all which is good in Rugby League, the Waratah's were once the national team of Rugby Union, the first non Victorian team in the VFL/AFL is the Sydney Swans, and they all enjoy my passionate support. Sings for Wanderers. Internationally, I have been to see the Oakland Athletics and Green Bay Packers play. One day, I'll see Norwich City play for the FA Cup at Wembley.


  1. Wayne

    A number of very good points. Thanks

    In relation to the time between games India got, I’d add that the schedule certainly didn’t favour the Associates, with Afghanistan playing in NZ, then off to Perth, then back to NZ 3 days later, Ireland playing in Hobart, then Hamilton NZ then Adelaide, and UAE playing Brisbane, Perth then NZ. I don’t see India or a stronger nation putting up with that travel plan.

    43 games now gone as at today, and only 5 have been shown on free to air TV, a problem that maybe affects the scheduling, with not enough days with 2 games on to speed things up. It is a long tournament when you look at it like that, especially compared with the FIFA World Cup.

    Think that despite the length, the Associate nations have shown enough to stay in the next comp. Issue is how much top level cricket they get to play in the intervening period, as that’s the rub that keeps them below par if it is only asking them to play at a top level once every 4 years.

    Nice that the Poms were flying home while Scotland and Ireland were still completing their tournament, with Ireland a chance to have progressed


  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Agree with all of this Wayne. Great article. Ireland should be a Test team. 14 teams should be the absolute minimum for any World Cup. Growing the game is far more important than making money for India. The Associates have added to every single World Cup played so far. Including this one.

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